Debating regional stormwater program

Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris (right) tells council that when people look back at this issue, he wants the best choice to have been made for all residents. Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller (center) was the sole dissenting vote.

NORTH ROYALTON – After debating the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s fee-based Stormwater Management Program a final time, city council opted 6-1 to include the entire city in the plan with the sole dissenting vote being Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller, citing reservations with how much the city would actually recoup in the way of projects.

The fee will begin in July, likely costing most residents $5.15 per month, though some could pay up to $9.27 depending on the amount of impervious surface their properties have – roofing, pavement, etc. The program will generate roughly $1.2 million per year from North Royalton and $41 million across the entire district to address flooding, erosion, water quality and maintenance regionally.

Each year, the city will be reimbursed 25 percent of residents’ payments, about $300,000, into a dedicated account to be used for city stormwater projects. The city, with input from the engineering and stormwater departments, can also identify potential larger-scale issues through North Royalton’s watershed team leader for review and consideration.

Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, deputy director of watershed programs for NEORSD, said North Royalton will not be excluded or left out in this program. Yes, bigger projects would be need and urgency based and have to be scored against others; however, the 21 miles of waterways and basins throughout the city will be maintained, inspected and removed of debris.

“If North Royalton has issues along the regional stormwater system, the NEORSD will make our best effort to address them through maintenance, planning and construction. North Royalton is part of a system, so it is both impacted by those upstream and it impacts those downstream. That’s why we have this regional program,” Dreyfuss-Wells explained.

Despite this, Muller said it is simply too much money going out and not enough coming back to lend his support.

“I think there are positives to it, but I find it disappointing that 75 percent of the money isn’t even guaranteed to come back to the community,” he said before the vote.

Mayor Bob Stefanik encouraged Muller to look closely at the Rocky River along Bennett Road.

“There’s a log jam blocking it up. We don’t have the manpower or the expertise to do that. We have 21 miles of waterways that have never been touched, and we are going to get some assistance with that. Nothing is free,” he told Muller.

For decades North Royalton struggled with stormwater. Now, the mayor said, there’s finally a handle on the issue, and a chance to improve it even further.

“This is the next piece of the puzzle enacting this. I know some people will say, ‘I don’t flood, it’s not my problem.’ We pave streets like Hi-View and Martin Drive, which is a dead-end street. Every taxpayer in North Royalton shared in the cost to pave that when 98 percent of them will never drive on it. This is the same principle,” Stefanik said.

Council President Larry Antoskiewicz agreed.

“We pay taxes into the Metroparks. We spend money, and they fix a lot of areas. We get some of it back like Aukerman Park. Are we getting 100 percent back? I don’t think so. You are never going to get 100 percent back. You need to look at the broader problem. This helps solve a regional problem with a regional solution,” he said.

Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris asked Law Director Tom Kelly some questions in an attempt to show just how tied the city’s hands are due to the equalization ordinance.

North Royalton operates its own wastewater treatment facility. The northeastern most section of the city, the C District, belongs to North Royalton but is serviced by the NEORSD, and so is included in the NEORSD program.

However, the equalization ordinance, passed in 1995, states residents must pay equal rates. The C District is mandated to pay this fee, which would have been more than the rest of the city paid had council turned down involvement in this program, so the entire community’s rates would have had to be equalized so all residents would be paying similar rates.

This means everyone would have been contributing to the program but only the C District would have reaped the program’s benefits.

Kasaris asked if the equalization ordinance could be repealed, but Kelly indicated it would likely result in a lawsuit brought forward by the C District. The court of appeals confirmed years ago that the North Royalton Consolidated Sewer District is but one district, despite the C District being serviced by the NEORSD, and that it is incumbent upon the mayor and council to make sure rates are equal across the board. So if repealed, the city would likely be ordered to equalize by a court of law.

“We pretty much have to pass what we are discussing tonight. Whether we agree with it or not, if we repeal the equalization ordinance we are going to end up in court. We are going to lose any agreement we made or entered into,” Kasaris added, referencing all the benefits of the stormwater program.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” Kelly added.

Kasaris said when people look back on this, he wants them to see that the best choice was made for all residents.

“All eight of us have witnessed what floodwater does in this city,” he said. “There are 21 miles of waterways that have an opportunity to be serviced. The trees falling in rivers are going to be cleaned up. The responsible thing to do is to act to the benefit of all our residents to get something, otherwise, we get nothing and, quite frankly, in my mind, that would be foolish.”

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said the city needs the additional resources.

“Parma is the seventh largest city in the state, and we have the same if not more waterways than they do. That’s saying something. When it comes down to numbers and what we’re going to get, the key number is zero. If we do nothing, people are going to have to pay and get zero. I have faith and confidence in the mayor. I think he will fight for us,” he said referring to Stefanik’s seat on the NEORSD board.

The city and NEORSD hosted a workshop at city hall to discuss things residents and businesses can do to quality for credits, such as disconnecting downspouts, utilizing rain barrels and creating a rain garden. Credits can be applied for at neorsd.org/residentialcredits.

For more information about the Stormwater Management Program, visit http://neorsd.blogspot.com/2015/09/faq-38-questions-and-answers-about-our.html.

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